Irving recruiting foreign workers to build Royal Canadian Navy’s new warship fleet

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Irving Shipbuilding wants to recruit more foreign workers to help build the Canadian Navy’s new fleet of warships.

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Irving is involved in a recruitment campaign to enlist workers from the Philippines while preparing to build the first of 15 Canadian surface fighters.

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This warship program has been touted by federal government officials, defense analysts, and Irving officials as a catalyst in creating the highest-paying jobs for Canadians.

But Irving employees told this newspaper that the company is losing qualified Canadian shipbuilders because the company is underpaying and lacking benefits.

The Embassy of the Philippines in Ottawa is helping with the recruitment campaign for Irving. On September 20, under the banner “Filipinos Invited to Build Canada’s Naval Fleet,” she noted that a delegation from the Embassy and Philippine Overseas Labor Office visited Irving Shipbuilding on September 19, where they were received by the company’s human resources department, President Jim Rennie.

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“As Irving Shipbuilding has been contracted to build Canada’s next-generation fleet of Surface Combatants CAF, the Company is currently recruiting Filipino shipbuilders to meet its staffing needs for this important contract,” the embassy noted. “During the meeting that followed the site visit, Rennie provided an overview of the support services they have put in place to ensure the successful integration of their prospective Filipino employees into the Halifax company and community.”

The Philippine Embassy in Ottawa and POLO Toronto delegation at the Irving Shipbuilding facility in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  (Image credit: Ottawa PE)
The Philippine Embassy in Ottawa and POLO Toronto delegation at the Irving Shipbuilding facility in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Image credit: Ottawa PE) jpeg

Mary Keith, Irving’s vice president of communications, said 98 percent of the company’s workforce is Canadian and the company’s priority is to hire Canadians with experience.

She explained that foreign workers hired by the company “gain permanent residency and citizenship and contribute to the Canadian economy.”

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She noted that the Unifor Local 1 shipyards union was aware that the company was looking for skilled tradespeople inside and outside of Canada and that those individuals would be union members.

“We currently have approximately 250 open positions for staff, executives and skilled workers,” added Keith.

In a May 2020 appearance before a Commons committee, Deputy Secretary for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Simon Kennedy claimed that the federal government’s shipbuilding strategy has created or preserved nearly 17,000 Canadian jobs. Kennedy also claimed that ISED officials worked regularly with Irving and others on the Surface Combatant project to ensure the economic benefits promised to Canada were implemented.

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However, Innovation, Science and Economic Development were asked to comment on Irving’s recruitment campaign and said they could not respond because the issue “is not within the purview of the department”.

Public Services and Procurement Canada did not comment.

The Canadian Surface Combatant project to build 15 warships to replace the Navy’s frigates began with a budget of $26 billion. The budget is now about $56 billion to $60 billion, according to National Defense. Critics of the shipbuilding program point out that the Surface Combatant project has spiraled out of control, with some lawmakers now suggesting the price has risen to $100 billion.

Conservative MP Kelly McCauley, who is a member of the Commons government’s Operations Committee, said the push to hire foreign workers for the new warship program was disappointing. “Government and industry officials have repeatedly told our committee about all the great jobs this program will create for Canadians,” he said. “I find it very disappointing that after the tens of billions of dollars thrown at Irving for shipbuilding, they are not reaching across our country to recruit workers.”

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McCauley said there should also be an emphasis on recruiting Indigenous peoples for such jobs and questioned the lack of shipbuilding training for Canadians.

Irving has previously hired foreign workers. In 2017, the Chronicle Herald newspaper in Halifax reported on Irving hiring laborers from Poland to work on Royal Canadian Navy ships. Irving also had a contract with Spanish firm Gabadi LC, bringing Spanish carpenters to Halifax to work on the Navy’s Arctic and offshore patrol vessels.

At the time, Irving claimed the newspaper reports were false.

But it then released a statement confirming that foreign workers were being recruited. “Because Canada has not had a ship newbuilding program for nearly 25 years, there is no specific shipbuilding expertise in Canada or we have exhausted our efforts to recruit Canadians for specific positions,” Irving noted in the statement at the time. “Under these exceptional circumstances, specialists must be sought internationally.”

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Union officials representing workers at the Irving Shipyard in Halifax have not commented on the recent foreign labor recruitment program. But in June 2018, David Baker-Mosher, president of Unifor Local MWF1, said union workers at Irving objected to temporary foreign workers at the farm. “The foreign temporary workers have created enormous hostility,” he said at a news conference.

Baker-Mosher told reporters that while Irving was hiring foreign workers, he knew of skilled workers who had to leave Nova Scotia to take jobs in western Canada, particularly Alberta.

Earlier this year, this newspaper revealed that Procurement Canada was quietly seeking so-called influencers to spread messages on social media that the government’s shipbuilding program was a success.

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The influencer recruitment program targeted officials at various companies, as well as defense analysts and academics who are considered supporters of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, or NSS. They should be provided with positive messages and data from Procurement Canada about federal shipbuilding with a focus on job creation.

“The NSS has resulted in many social and economic benefits, from creating and sustaining more than 16,000 jobs annually to showcasing the innovations in shipbuilding, and we know we have content that will be of interest to your followers and network ‘, the potential influencers were shared by Procurement Canada.

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